I am often asked by those newer to the sport or those thinking about entering their first powerlifting competition – what do the competition lifts look like? There are many forms and variations of the powerlifts in the gym and they want to know if their gym lift would count in a competition? I also get questions about the rules and what one can and can’t do in a competition.
The point of this article series is to make it very clear what the competition standards are for each lift, along with the key rules. To be blunt, a seasoned veteran won’t get much out of this series of articles (I will do one article for each competitive lift) but those same lifters are often the ones that are asked this very question. It is my hope they share the information with any of the newer, up-and-coming lifters they know.
A powerlifting competition always starts with the squat, then the bench press, and then the deadlift. If a strict curl is contested it is usually done after the bench or after the deadlift.
Squat Visual Guide
If you simply want a visual guide of a proper competition squat, read no further and have a look at this video:
If you want more information and you want to be fully prepared when it comes to be competition day, read on.
Key Terms to Know
In order to help lifters understand the lifting order in powerlifting, there are several terms that are regularly used. They are:
- The Lifter – the person lifting the weight that is currently loaded
- On Deck – this is the person up next after the current competitor
- In the Hole – this person will be second up after the Lifter and the person On Deck
- In the Wing – this person will be third up, after the Lifter, the person On Deck, and the person In the Hole
- Bar is Loaded – this means the bar with the proper weight has been loaded and is ready for the lifter. When the Bar is Loaded for you, it means you have 1 minute from the time of that announcement to walk on the platform and begin your lift.
Generally when a lifter is “In the Hole” they begin to mentally prep themselves for the event and they will start to put on any powerlifting equipment such as a belt or wrist wraps that they will wear in the event.
Once the Bar is Loaded command is given, you will walk up to the bar and take your grip. Get your feet set and then lift the bar off and walk it out and assume your squat stance. Wait for the Command.
- Take any grip you want, wide, narrow, open, closed – however some federations don’t allow you to hold the sleeves of the bar
- It is allowable (although not desirable) to take as many steps as you want in the walkout. Good lifters will complete their walkout in 2-4 steps, the heavier the weight the more important this becomes.
- It is okay to shuffle your feet or adjust your stance BEFORE you receive the “squat command”, get comfortable
Once you are motionless and appear to be comfortable (many give the head judge a slight nod with their head) the head judge will give the “Squat!” Command and will motion downward with his hand.
- You can take a breath or wait until you are ready, you do not have to squat immediately
- You can NOT shuffle your feet or readjust your position at this point
- You must squat until you reach proper depth
- There is NO Up Command, once you hit desired depth stand back up.
- Lock your knees straight and stand up tall with the bar
- Remain motionless at the top
Once you are motionless at the top of the lift the head judge will give you the “Rack!” Command, at which point you take a step forward. Once you take a step forward the spotters can help you replace the weight in the rack and the lift is effectively over.
- You can NOT move your feet before the head judge says “Rack!”
- Legs must be straight and torso erect at the end of the lift
- Don’t let the weight slide off/down your back – this sometimes happens with newer lifters and light weight when they wear singlets
- Your first step must be forward, if it is backward it is a no lift
By far the biggest issue is lifters not hitting proper squat depth. This is best viewed from the side and the rule is the top of the thigh must be higher than the crease of the hip. The simplest explanation I have heard is if you put a marble on the top of the musculature of the thigh near the knee when the lifter was at the bottom of the squat, would the marble roll toward the knee or toward the hip? If it would roll toward the hip, it is a good lift. If it would roll toward the knee, it is not.
Here are three examples of a squat depth that is clearly good and would be a legal lift:
Here are two examples of a squat that is very borderline, it might get reds or it might get whites. In general you do not want to squat to this depth because now you are leaving the decision in the hands of the judges.
Here are four examples of squats that are clearly high and would not be a legal lift:
A more detailed analysis is that top of the femur (thigh bone near the hip) points down at the bottom of the squat. Here is a visual image of that:
In Summary, it is important for competitors, especially those new to the game, to know what is expected of them and to train to the proper standard. The 3 most common mistakes for new squatters are:
- Not squatting to proper depth
- Not following the commands
- Opening with too heavy of a weight
If you can avoid those 3 pitfalls you will be well on your way to the start of a successful and enjoyable powerlifting journey.